SHEER attention to detail and productively balancing good quality, high D-value grass silage with alkalised whole crop cereal has helped the Newbould family cost-effectively increase dairy cow yields in recent years.

Twenty-five years ago – and pre-alkalisation of whole crop wheat – the Slack Farm dairy herd at Newsholme near Gisburn on the Yorkshire/Lancashire border was producing 6,000 litres per cow per year under the milk quota regime. But David Newbould and his son Michael have implemented a series of dairy farming system improvements to boost milk production. So much so that the herd is now yielding 12,800kg of milk sold per cow per year at an average of 3.9% butterfat and 3.25% protein.

However, the one constant during this time has been a continued aim to make high quality grass silage and Alkalage from a mature wheat crop.

“It works well for us and has really helped us to economically increase yields. We run a forage-based system but are in a high rainfall area (average of 50 inches per year) so growing maize is not an option. Whole crop wheat is the only choice for home-grown starch and therefore Alkalage has always been a fundamental part of unlocking cow production potential,” says David.

The milking herd at Slack Farm now numbers 230 Holstein Friesians; a 60-cow increase on the herd size 10 years ago. The closed herd calves all year round for level milk supply with output sold to Arla Foods under the Aldi Dairy Farm Partnership. The Newboulds rear all their own herd replacements, pointing out that they have not had to buy in a heifer or cow since 2002.

Herd nutrition has been overseen for the last 14 years by Duncan Rose from Carrs Billington, who says you’d be hard pressed to find a more well managed and progressive dairy unit.

“The Newboulds run a very tidy farm. They focus primarily on making top quality forage, but equally impressive is the way the grass silage clamp is managed. Each cut is consolidated by good rolling and then sheeted. And when the clamp is opened it is cut perfectly; nothing goes to waste.”

Although the Newboulds farm is in a high rainfall area in northern England, their first silage cut is still taken earlier than most. “At this time the grass crop is young, leafy and of high D-value. David and Michael do not reseed particularly often, but they are able to manage swards effectively by regular cutting. This allows them to take at least three even cuts a year in an area where many other farms only take two,” Duncan says.

However, Duncan points out that whilst their silage is of very high D-value, it sometimes can have a high acid load and be low in effective NDF, which means the Alkalage has always been the perfect complement in a high yielding cow’s milking ration.

“To help reduce the acid loading risk, we have started to try and increase grass silage dry matter percentage over recent years. Where possible, this involves tedding grass twice before we pick it up,” points out Michael.

“We now aim for 30% plus dry matter – although it is not always possible due to unpredictable weather – and overall we are looking for 50-55% of the cow’s diet on a dry matter basis to come from forage (target 12-13kg on a dry matter basis).”

The Newboulds have never been shy about investing in improvements to meet their high cow health, welfare and forage management goals whilst still boosting yields. An investment in robot milking – involving erecting a new building in 2013 – and building a new silage clamp with a 2500-tonne plus capacity in 2017, being two significant examples.

“Six years ago, we installed milking robots into a new shed on a greenfield site, not only to accommodate the robots but also particular cow needs at different stages of lactation. This has really helped us to push yields up and has allowed the cows to express their full genetic potential,” says Michael.

Lactating cows have access to a bespoke dairy concentrate, which is available not only through the robots, but also out of parlour feeds with a total upper limit of 16 kg and a maximum limit of 3kg per visit. Cows and heifers are fed to yield, which is calculated by a feed table in the T4C Lely programme.

“In addition to the dairy concentrate, a specialist dairy meal is included into the TMR to take the M+ of the diet to approximately M+18 before additional concentrate feeding. These high levels of concentrate feeding are necessary in order to support very high milk yields with cows often peaking at 60 litres or more. However, these high concentrate feed levels can only safely be sustained because of three things: 1) the high D value, well made, silages; 2) the rumen buffering of the Alkalage; and 3) the unique formulation of the concentrate and meal.” Duncan points out.

“It’s certainly a very nutrient dense diet with plenty of starch, both degradable and by-pass, and with just enough degradable protein for the rumen microflora. But it also has plenty of rumen by-pass protein to sustain high protein yields. I cannot emphasise enough the importance we place on achieving high dry matter intakes through a combination of nutrient density, control of acid loading and provision of sufficient effect rumen fibre – with Alkalage an important contributor to all three.”

As the milking herd has increased in size, so has the acreage earmarked for Alkalage. “We started with about 15 acres of winter wheat during the first few years but have steadily increased this to 55 acres. What we particularly like is the ability to make – from our own acres – a feed that reduces the risk of acidosis in the cows and what is the perfect complement to grass silage and bought-in concentrate feed,” says David.

Slack Farm base TMR ration for milking cows (trough fed daily): 25-30kg grass silage (varies depending whether on first, second, third or fourth cut); 5kg Alkalage; 0.5kg straw; 3-4kg blend (high energy/protein meal plus extra calcium and magnesium from Carrs Billington).